Whilst the third cut of Robin Hardy’s seminal classic The Wicker Man is unlikely to present much that your typical aficionado has not seen before, audiences should still relish this chance to see this masterpiece on the big screen again.
The Wicker Man centres around Christian police officer Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward) who receives a mysterious letter reporting of a missing child on the isolated Scottish island of Summerisle. Upon arrival, Howie witnesses the bizarre practices and rituals of the pagan islanders before ultimately realising something far more sinister is afoot.
Sitting somewhere between the 84 minute original Theatrical Cut and the 99 minute Director’s Cut, The Final Cut (clocking in at 94 minutes) fuses elements of both to craft what Hardy dubs the finest and most complete version of The Wicker Man.
Perhaps the most striking thing about The Wicker Man is Anthony Shaffer’s sublimely constructed screenplay. The sense of foreboding and unease that it crafts is unparalleled in any other British horror film. Initially starting through the uncooperative locals then gradually presenting us with grander, more horrifying shocks that build up to the film’s truly harrowing conclusion which Christopher Lee’s Lord Summerisle dubs the island’s ‘more dreadful sacrifice’. This conclusion is no less horrifying upon the dozenth watch – remaining one of the most harrowing, stomach-churning scenes in British cinema.
The Wicker Man also showcases exactly how wide-ranging the horror film has the potential to be. Incorporating elements of black comedy, eroticism, musical, thriller, and mystery – The Wicker Man is simply one of a kind. It is this combination of such eclectic filmic elements that makes Hardy’s film such a must-see cinematic experience. From the darkly comic dialogue (Lee’s delivery of lines like “Naturally! It’s much too dangerous to jump through fire with their clothes on!” upon explaining nudity during a ritual) and the riotously fun musical numbers (such as The Landlord’s Daughter and The Tinker Of Rye), to the sinister cult curiosities and exceedingly nasty conclusion – The Wicker Man is a film that plays with all the human emotions.
Hardy’s occasionally heavy-hand directing may not match the power of Shaffer’s writing, but no one can deny that all elements of The Wicker Man fit together perfectly. Whether just impressive coincidences (of which there are many) – like the wicker man’s burning head falling to reveal a sinister and omnipresent sunset (or sun god?) looming over the islanders – or calculated choices (let’s give Hardy some credit), the end result is without doubt a triumph.
One of the reasons that The Wicker Man remains such a chilling force of nature is through some of British cinema’s finest performances. Edward Woodward leads with an abrupt self-righteousness and ferocious sense of determination, which when placed amongst the carnivalesque rites of Summerisle makes for a truly endearing watch. The final scenes reflecting Howie as a man fighting against his twisted fate are a testament to the great Woodward’s acting might. The Wicker Man also boasts one of Sir Christopher Lee’s most impressive screen appearances. Simultaneously charming and imposing, pagan leader Summerisle makes the perfect on-screen opponent for the devoutly Christian Howie.
Britt Ekland appears at her most alluring as Landlord’s daughter, Willow McGregor, whilst former-Mrs. Sean Connery, Diane Cilento, does an impressive job at playing devoutly pagan schoolteacher Miss Rose.
Seeing this beautifully restored print of The Wicker Man on the big screen is a must – never before or since has a film captured such a winning combination of horror, comedy, eroticism and thrills in such an iconic manner. Now come, it’s time to meet your appointment with the wicker man.
Stars: Edward Woodward, Diane Cilento, Ingrid Pitt, Britt Ekland, and Christopher Lee
Director: Robin Hardy
Release: Now (Cinemas) and 14th October (DVD & BR)
Certificate: 15 (UK)